Byline: Soren Larson

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Michael Jordan had a banner rookie season last year — in the fragrance business, that is. His signature men’s scent became a leader in the department store market after an October launch; at the same time, it opened up an untested area of fragrance distribution by scoring big in 4,000 sporting goods outlets.
But can Jordan’s scent be a winner year after year, just as the basketball star’s Chicago Bulls have managed to win the NBA championship four times in six years?
That’s the next challenge for Jordan, who, naturally, says he’s up to it. Now he has the Michael Jordan Body Collection to complement the fragrance and the brand is rolling out in an aggressive international expansion plan.
According to executives at Bijan Fragrances, Jordan’s licensee, the addition of global markets will push the brand to a retail volume of $100 million this year.
“I think I made the all-rookie team last year,” Jordan told WWD with a chuckle last week, reclining on a couch at the posh Peninsula Hotel here. “I’m definitely more confident with it now. I think it surpassed a lot of expectations, and what it did was define Michael Jordan in a new way for a lot of people.”
He added: “I think in any game, it’s hard to stay on top once you get there, and that’s the challenge. We have a lot of opportunities. I think there’s a credibility with the product itself. We proved that last year with the successful launch, and I think the credibility is very strong right now. [The name] Michael Jordan brings awareness, sure, but I think the product in itself is a very good product.”
He stressed, as he has before, that he intends to stay close to the creative process — even becoming more involved with ideas and marketing once he retires from the NBA.
“Once I’m away from the game, I’ll continue to have more involvement with it, being more creative and keeping the design moving,” he said. “When I’m not playing basketball, we’ll still have a quality product. I’m going to be heavily involved in anything that says Michael Jordan on it. I’m a hands-on type of person, so it’s not just a name slapped on it. Everything has a sense of my personality and my involvement.”
Michael Jordan Cologne racked up $20 million at wholesale through June in U.S. department stores, according to NPD BeautyTrends. And the addition of the body care line, introduced in April, has executives at Bijan Fragrances, Jordan’s licensee, optimistic they can keep the momentum.
Already, Michael Jordan Cologne is making an impact overseas. Sales have even been strong in Japan, traditionally a country where fragrance sales are paltry at best. The item has generated $10 million at retail there since a February launch, according to Daryoush Mahboubi, Bijan’s business partner.
The fragrance is now going into Europe and South America and has rolled out through the Pacific Rim. It will be sold in an estimated 55 countries by the end of the year, with a goal of being in nearly 100 by the end of 1998. Soon, over one-third of overall volume will be generated outside the U.S., if all goes according to Bijan’s plan.
“I think we were very confident about the U.S. market, but it picked up internationally very rapidly,” noted Jordan. “That will be a driving force for us, to continue what we’ve done so far and continue to expose more and more people to the line.”
He claimed to be surprised by his name recognition around the globe, particularly in Japan.
“It’s bigger than I anticipated,” he said. “I had the opportunity to go to Japan last year, and they were very aware of myself as a basketball player and also the products I’m involved with.”
Mahboubi said one key to maintaining a high level of sales is to keep up the promotional efforts — but at the same time take care not to overexpose the name.
“We need to keep him at least a little mysterious,” Mahboubi said. “We have to keep him in demand, because we want to stay around for the long term and build a franchise. This is not just a one-year deal for Michael or for Bijan.”
He said Bijan plans to eventually take the Jordan name into men’s accessories and leather goods — “anything with a natural progression for Michael. It has to make sense with his image.”
Meanwhile, the company is set to embark on a new round of advertising for the fragrance. A combination of TV, print and outdoor campaigns will hit the U.S. and international markets beginning in November, and a total of $22 million will be spent by the end of the year.
As a result of the continued exposure, the line is projected to jump by 20 percent in 1998, reaching the neighborhood of $120 million worldwide.
“There are so many new fragrance entries” each season, noted Mahboubi. “We don’t want to give up our front-row seat. We have to keep up the pace.”
Most likely because of Jordan’s credibility as an athlete, Mahboubi surmised, the sports-oriented body line has been accounting for 25 percent of overall sales, a jump from the industry norm of 15 percent.
Jordan added that the body products presented a unique business opportunity, due to men’s traditional reluctance to use grooming aids.
“[These are] products that men, for so long, have been afraid to expose themselves to, to utilize them and take care of themselves. I’ve seen a lot of that in the locker room,” he said.
“So, we wanted to expose [body care], from body oils, to shampoos to body soaps…I think that hadn’t really been exposed, especially from the athlete’s standpoint. We want to show it to a man so that he’s not ashamed or afraid of it.”
Though another basketball season is just around the corner — the 34-year-old recently signed up for a 13th year with the Bulls for a reported $33 million — Jordan claims that won’t deter him from staying close to his fragrance venture.
“I like creating, and Bijan and the partnership have given me the opportunity to do that,” he said. “I’m aware of fragrances and I’m aware of fashion, and certainly [this has] allowed me to experiment. I’ll have to do something sooner or later when I walk away from basketball, and this is an avenue that I could pursue.”
He’ll certainly have his hands full if he chooses. Jordan recently unveiled his own athletic shoe and sportswear enterprise, a new division of Nike, where he’ll produce sneakers and apparel as well as other new lines. The new brand, called simply Jordan, is expected to ring up sales in the $250 million range next year.
What the basketball star referred to several times as “Brand Jordan” also presents ample opportunity to cross-promote his scent.
“It certainly is a great tie-in with fragrances,” he said. “And once we get established with fragrances, it will be easy to connect it with fashion somewhere along the road.
“The good thing about this whole opportunity is that there’s a lot of different avenues that you can go down,” he added. “That’s the beauty of being creative.”

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